When should children be on social media? Penelope Cruz brands it a 'cruel experiment'

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz arrives for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 9, 2024. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)
Penelope Cruz has said that her children are not allowed on social media until they are 16 years old. (Getty Images)

The increasing prevalence of social media in children’s lives is not something that’s going anywhere any time soon - something that Penelope Cruz is keen to shield her children with Javier Bardem from for as long as she can.

The Spanish actress is mother to Leo, 12, and Luna, 10. She has previously spoken out about her strict rules around them owning phones and going on social media, and has now branded social media a "cruel experiment".

Speaking to ELLE Magazine in a new interview, Cruz said she is determined to keep her children away from social media while they're young because it is "so easy to be manipulated, especially if you have a brain that is still forming".

"Who pays the price? Not us, not our generation, who, maybe at 25, learned how a BlackBerry worked," she continued. "It's a cruel experiment on children, on teenagers."

She joins a huge number of parents who are worried about the impact social media will have on their children, both now and in the future.

Last year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex spoke about mental wellness at a discussion in New York City and made clear that their young children Archie, four, and Lilibet, two, were foremost in their minds.

Meghan Markle, wearing a white off-shoulder jumpsuit and white stilettos, and Prince Harry, wearing a suit and tie, speak onstage at The Archewell Foundation Parents’ Summit: Mental Wellness in the Digital Age during Project Healthy Minds' World Mental Health Day Festival 2023 at Hudson Yards on October 10, 2023 in New York City
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have warned that social media is harming children and young people. (Getty Images)

According to reports, Meghan told the audience: “Our kids are really young… but social media is not going away.”

The couple called for an overhaul of content moderation policies on social media platforms, after the event heard from parents who have lost children due to mental health challenges linked to social media use.

Meghan said she and Harry have had conversations with tech executives about ways to make social media “safer, better and more positive”. “People are getting hurt - and people, specifically children, are dying,” she added.

Harry issued another message to social media giants and said: “Please stop sending children content you wouldn’t want your own children to see. I think it’s a very simple request and it’s an easy fix.”

The royal couple’s comments come nearly a month after the government announced that the Online Safety Bill will become law, which means social media firms will be forced to remove illegal content and protect users, especially children, from legal but harmful material.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex speak onstage at The Archewell Foundation Parents’ Summit: Mental Wellness in the Digital Age during Project Healthy Minds' World Mental Health Day Festival 2023 at Hudson Yards on October 10, 2023 in New York City
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry said they have spoken to tech executives at social media firms about making their platforms 'safer' to use. (Getty Images)

Even so, navigating the complexities between children and social media can be difficult for parents. As concerns around children’s mental health continue to grow, it’s important that parents feel equipped to talk about social media and mitigate its impact on their kids.

Is there an ideal age to allow children to create their own social media accounts?

Gill Lever, senior manager of child safety online at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), tells Yahoo UK that the minimum age requirement on most social media platforms - which is the age of 13 - is a good gauge to use when considering what age to allow your child to engage with it.

“Each child is different, but it’s important to bear in mind that this age has been carefully considered and guided by international legislation,” she says. “It takes into account the developmental abilities of children of this age, for instance, they are more likely to be able to weigh up the pros and cons of certain situations, what they can trust and recognise misinformation and disinformation.”

That said, there is no “one size fits all” answer to when parents should let their children use social media, says parenting expert Holly Zoccolan, who founded The Carol App.

“It depends on the child’s maturity, understanding of online safety, and your own comfort level as a parent,” she continues. “Many platforms have a minimum age requirement, usually 13, but that’s a guideline rather than a firm rule. There’s no magic number for when your child should have their own social media account. A lot depends on how mature they are and how comfortable you feel about it.”

What should parents consider before allowing their child on social media?

Zoccolan says there are several factors that parents should take into consideration when contemplating this question.

Age appropriateness

Check the minimum age requirement for each platform. Some sites are geared towards older teens and adults.

Online safety

Make sure to talk about the risks involved, like cyberbullying or exposure to inappropriate content.

Privacy settings

Educate yourself and your child on the platform’s privacy settings to ensure maximum safety. It’s a good idea to get to grips with privacy settings together, so only the right people see their posts.

Time management

Consider the amount of time spent online and how it may affect other activities. You’ll also want to think about how much screen time is too much for you and your little one.

A Black father shows his two children, who sit on either side of him on a sofa, something on his phone
Figuring out privacy settings on social media together with your children is good practice. (Getty Images)

Lever adds that it’s worth bearing in mind that some children might feel peer pressure from friends who spend more time on social media.

She says: “Social media, and technology as a whole, is an inevitable part of children’s lives. It’s how young people interact and learn, so it’s important to have conversations early on about how they can protect themselves when going online.”

How can parents talk to their kids about social media?

Zoccolan emphasises that this should be an ongoing conversation with your children, adding: “It’s a space that constantly evolves, so keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. Keep the dialogue going; it’s a whole new world out there for them and you’ll want to be part of them.”

Be curious

“Ask your kids what they enjoy about social media, and who the follow, to understand their online world,” Zoccolan says. Lever adds: “Playing their favourite game with them or watching their favourite TikTok videos can go a long way in showing you trust them, but also demonstrates to you what they’re doing when they’re online.”

Set boundaries

Zoccolan recommends having a heart-to-heart about what’s OK to post and what should stay private.

Regular check-ins

“Make it a routine to talk about their online experiences, which keeps the door open for them to come to you with concerns or questions.” Zoccolan says.

Exercise scenarios

Lever suggests asking children what they would do in certain situations, such as being bullied or receiving material that made them uncomfortable. “It’s important to get children’s perspective and then build on their existing knowledge - if they don’t know, make suggestions and signpost to support - such as Childline or the NSPCC’s online safety hub.”

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